Jack Tame: Sending my warmest wishes for the New Year

Romantic as it sounds, a snowy New York winter was not what some people were hoping for. Photo / Thinkstock
Romantic as it sounds, a snowy New York winter was not what some people were hoping for. Photo / Thinkstock

Christmas in New York makes for a mighty romantic notion.

Ice skating at the Rockefeller, eggnog and carols by candlelight. Perhaps you think of Clydesdales neatly clopping through Central Park, their hooves gently throwing up little puffs of powdery snow. You may wistfully dream of Christmas trees and mittens, pure white lights upon brick stone buildings or luxurious window displays along Fifth Ave.

You probably don't think of Spanish Harlem.

Indeed, in some parts of New York, people weren't actually hoping for a white Christmas. A white Christmas meant a cold Christmas, even for those indoors. And in some parts of New York, the sum total of Christmas wishlists was little more than the necessities of life.

In my building, we blame Raoul. Thin and wiry-strong with leathery, weathered skin, he has sharp stubble and lizardy lips, and the shifting, ratty eyes of a thief.

Raoul's lack of front teeth does little to soften his appearance, nor does the dubious company he keeps.

On the rare times he is spotted around our apartment block he appears never to be totally sober and a neighbour is convinced he used to work for the mob.

Needless to say, it was abundantly clear, from the first time he showed me about, that Raoul is about as suited to being a landlord as a starving python is to babysitting mice.

"It looks fine enough," I said, when we first scanned the miserly walls of my apartment's bleak interior. "But aren't you worried about that giant, bulging water leak, about to burst through the wall?"

"Lick of paint," said Raoul. "Lick of paint and it's good as new."

In the lounge was another haematoma of sorts, directly above an electrical outlet.

"See ... it needs to have paint," said Raoul, with no intention of actually picking up a brush.

Mid-year I tried to contact him again, upon discovering a large slab of stucco, weighing 4-5kg, nestled emphatically atop my dinner table. The clouds of probable-asbestos drifting about the kitchen were worrying enough, even without the gaping hole in the ceiling.

As you'd expect, Raoul was deeply concerned. After six days, he even texted back.

"Maybe ceiling needs lick of paint," he said.

Maybe you've already licked it, I thought.

But of all Raoul's maintenance shortcomings, winter has proved the catalyst for the worst.

The tenants of our building have so far endured 14 days without hot water or heating, huddling in duvets and sleeping bags by overworked column heaters to stave off New York's freezing cold. It makes a grim contrast to the glamour of snowy Manhattan, to stand naked, twisting and shrieking in an icy cold shower, because Raoul forgot to fill the boiler with gas.

And as Christmas rolled by, I received an email from a neighbour in an apartment upstairs. Hot water and heating were out, just for a change. No one could track down the landlord. Instead of carolling or ice skating or Clydesdale-ing through Central Park, in Spanish Harlem they hoped simply for a repairman.

"Happy New Year," I replied to my neighbour: "And warmest wishes, I suppose."

I'm sure Raoul's already on the job.

- Herald on Sunday

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